Background: We were a group of 28 kids and adults, 14 kids in tow ranging from 2-10 and 14 adults from our early 30's to mid- 40's. Most in my party were experienced cruisers and my family goes on a cruise at least once a year so we are not new to cruising.
I traveled with Costa about 15 years ago and had a great time, I remember the attentive service, the fabulous food and terrific kids programs so I was enthusiastic to be the cruise director for our group of 28. We were determined to have a good time but this was not easy with Costa. Sadly not one of the 28 who sailed with me will ever sail on Costa again.
Embarkation: We arrived at noon and embarkation went relatively smoothly, we were on the ship by 12:30. Upon boarding we were met by a few people dressed as clowns for a super quick picture. Further down the ramp we saw the "Squok Club" handing out flyers. The Squok club is the Costa club for kids ages 3-teenagers. MOST cruise lines start the kids clubs at age 2....but much more about the Squok club later (really disappointing).
We were then shuttled on board and told to go the 9th deck for the buffet, we choose to go the rooms so that we could have our room keys and find out our dining arrangements. Normally other ships give you this information as soon as you board, but with Costa it was all laid out on the bed. No picture was ever taken that would be associated with the Costa sail and sign card. Costa needs MAJOR improvement with their security.
First impression of ship: Decorated in a classic Italian style with very ornate touches throughout the ship. A little gaudy for my taste but I did admire the Tang Dynasty artwork that was behind glass in the shops and around the ship. The center atrium which was 8 or so stories high was beautiful with what appeared to be floating modern sculptures of dancers in various positions and painted differently for each floor. The entire ship had opera characters depicted in every nook and cranny, on the elevator we were greeted with poster sized images. Again it was nice, a little over the top, but at least it was something to look at. I did notice sanitizing stations by every buffet and dining room. Ship was clean.
Cabins: The cabin was spacious and clean(outside cabin on Deck 2 with no balcony). It should be noted that 70% of all outside cabins on this ship are balcony cabins, great if you do not have young kids. We had a quad and unlike Carnival or Royal the beds were not one on top of another; the two twin beds were pushed together with the single twins against one wall (one being an upper level twin attached to the wall). The cabin had plenty of closest space for the 4 of us (2 adults and 2 kids) and we always bring our own hangers and get rid of the ultra bulky hangers that Costa provides, you can fit many more clothes if you bring your own wire hangers (easier to pack then plastic and you can trash them as you use them).
The bathroom was clean and standard, nothing fancy but it fit our needs. Our cabin steward cleaned the room twice a day, never was a consistent time, no chocolates on the pillows or the towel animals that the kids love, we were told there was a shortage of towels.
Dining room and Buffets: To sum up the food aboard Costa, bland and unimpressive. The buffets were similar to what you find on most ships, carved meats, and hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch. Pizza was available at different times but no later than around midnight Everyday was a different food so one day you might have an Oriental corner, the next was Chinese but there were always the standards hot dogs/burgers and assorted lunch meat. Nothing fancy, nothing over the top. Personally we never went to the dining room for breakfast or lunch but I heard the breakfast in the dining room was quick and very good compared to the food served at the buffet. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, an omelet station, bacon, assorted breads and fresh fruit.
Dinner service (Early seating at 5:45) was soooo slow, my overall impression was that this must be a new cruise and the kinks were not worked out. I never saw our waiter slacking but I had empty plates sitting for 15-20 minutes while I waited. This did not improve over the course of 7 days. We had 4 large tables in the dining room and 3 different waiters and all experienced the same painfully slow service. The entire staff was of Philippine decent and we had a different busboy each night which I found unusual and it didn't help that we had to continually ask for ice tea and water.
The food was bland and boring. It didn't seem as if I had enough choices and my guess would be that most of the food was frozen and not fresh. The meat portions were relatively small and not seasoned well. To my knowledge, there was no lobster night. Overall the food wasn't horrible but not one dish sticks in my head as being a "wow" dish. Deserts were very limited as compared to other ships. Since this was a 7 days cruise I was expecting more and was disappointed. Dinner generally took a good 1 ½ to 2 hours from start to finish. The mid-night buffet was lunch meat and deserts.
Kids Club"Squok Club": This was the most upsetting aspect of the entire cruise. We booked the cruise with the "kids sail free" promotion which was a real saving since we all had children traveling with us. With so many people taking advantage of this program one would expect a great kids program, this was not the case.
The kid's room was in the front of the ship, it was supposed to be two rooms, one for the mini campers ages 3-6 and one room for the maxi campers age 7-11, but one of the doors was broken and was never opened the entire cruise. Security for the kids was horrible; I have never experienced such poor security in my life. Costa's requires you to sign n in your kid and upon signing them out did not request any type of ID although a password was supposed to be given, no one ever asked for any and on the first day I managed to pick up 3 kids from different families, one was never even signed in and I was asked to sign him in and out at the same time. This was a major security flaw, basically anyone could go in and request a child and no questions were asked.
We reported this to the Sqouk director the next morning but really saw little improvement over the next 6 days. The camp counselors were older, looked bored to be there and many of the children did not want to go back. The activities consisted of watching a movie and then being asked questions about the move to earn Squok dollars, and they grouped all the kids together so you had the 3 year olds watching High School Musical 2 along with the 11 year olds and THAT WAS IT, no entertainment. My 5 year old was bored to tears and my 11 year old refused to go back and sit with 3 year olds. The counselors were not happy to be there. There were no windows to check on the kids, the doors were always shut so you basically had to have your child see you come in each time to check on them, and we all know how young kids can be when they see mom or dad.
Also, unlike other cruise lines, Costa DID NOT have any type of beeper or notification service to check on the kids, you were given a little piece of paper with the clubs number on it and had to call to check on your kid. THEN, to make matters worse, no name tags were never given to the kids so when you call to check on them they are screaming you kids name and then asking then if they are ok, no one ever bothered to learn the kids names.
The club was opened VERY limited hours, 3 hours in the morning, closed from 12-3 maybe open from 3-4:30 and then closed till 9pm. Then they only offered activities till 11 or maybe 11:30 and although they mentioned they had late night babysitting every time I inquired they were not offering it that night. Having an adult night is not possible on Costa. I would never just dump my kid for hours at a time but it is nice to have the kids do some activities and have fun; basically they hated going and were stuck with the parents all night.
Casino: The dealers were not friendly, no enthusiasm was shown. A few of us do like to gamble but when you have a dealer with a sour puss on their face it doesn't make it any fun. I play roulette and on one round the dealer actually put the marker on the wrong number and proceeded to clear the table, she just looked at us with a dumb look on her face. It was a good idea to know how much you should be paid when wining on roulette as I found it necessary to correct the dealers on a few occasions when I was paid out. There were several slot machines but the craps table seemed to be missing.
Shows: YAWN! Boring and lame. I walked out of 2 shows. The late night comedian was doing Jerry Lewis impressions and singing Doors and Led Zeppelin songs, I am 35 and found this to be boring and walked out half way thru the show. The talent show the last night was ok, but I swear it seems like the entire entertainment personnel were on the ship for the first time, nothing seemed rehearsed or practiced and everything seemed to be impromptu which came across as amateurish.
San Juan: Walked around the Port area and did some shopping, a few of us went to the Fort. Nothing special, no great deals. I was in San Juan a few years ago so this was going to be a ship night for me anyways.
St Thomas: We all went to Coral World and then to the adjoining Coki beach. Paid $20 Round trip, per person to CoralWorld/Coki beach, I managed to get 7 kids for free but we were 28 people on a large open aired bus/taxi. Coral World was $19 per person and the cab driver gave us $4 off coupons when we asked for them, so we ended up paying $15 per person. Coral World is small with few attractions. Coki beach is very clean but crowded; the beach had soft sand and turquoise water. We paid $5 for a few chairs and enjoyed the day.
Grand Turks: This was everyone's favorite port. We spent the entire day at the beach and the nearby Margaritaville pool. BRING cash with you, the food and drinks are not cheap at Margaritaville but everyone enjoyed the pool area, the music and the swim up bar.
Casa de Campo(Dominican Republic): Half of our group went shopping in La Romana($7 round trip taxi ride) and I went to Altos De Chavon($5 r/t), I enjoyed Altos since it was quiet, up on a hill, and in the gorgeous resort of Casa de Campo. Not much to do on the hill but the view was beautiful.
Dance Clubs/Disco: Most nights you could find the dealers and entertainment staff dancing the night away, they took over the club.
Bars/ Drink Cards: We purchased the "Boys and Girls" card which for $59 you were entitled to 20 soft drinks and or virgin drinks (pina coladas and Daiquiris). The ship supposedly ran out of Strawberry daiquiri mix on Friday and Diet Coke. I would get the X-1 card if you like to drink since it can not be purchased while on board the ship.
Pools: Expect lots of splashing and kids running around. Also, if you want a chair, you will need to save one at 7am and hold it till you decide to use it. This was done every single day and was soooooo annoying. We sat around the edge of the pool on most days since we didn't arrive to the pool until 9am and the chairs were already taken. Security was even called on one of us since apparently we sat in a chair that was occupied by a lone cruise towel on the seat, this started and argument and the other party called security. Crazy people!
I would not travel with Costa again. I did not get that warm and fuzzy feeling while on board, the cruise tends to cater to the over 70 crowd. The kids club was a definite downer for all of us and the food and entrainment left much to be desired. I couldn't wait to get home and have a "good meal".
I REALLY wanted to have a great time and our group did have lots of laughs, the Toga party was a lot of fun. My hubby was coerced into entering the belly flop contest which he won...too funny. Thank God for the company that was with us. Overall Costa has a lot of improvement to make; the sad thing is they were once great, now I think they are only known for cheap cruises and no frills.